Known by fans as “The God of Hellfire” and “The God Father of Shock Rock,” Arthur Brown combined music and the macabre in an elaborate multi media rock show at a time before anybody even dared to do it.

Although rock iconisim seemed to have passed him by, British musician Arthur Brown has become known by rock n’ roll aficionados as the god father of shock rock.  With his face painted in garish makeup, Arthur would screech like a banshee, set the stage on fire, dance like in a voodoo trace and wear a trademark helmet that would shoot flames from his head.  In the summer of 1968, when Arthur rolled out his elaborate rock n’ roll stage show The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, there was nothing quite like it.  When he released his debut album in June 1968, the biggest songs in the world was Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson and Herb Alpert’s This Guys in Love With You.  In a few months Arthur Brown would change the face of rock n’ roll when he captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic by screaming a new message:  “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU FIRE!”

Arthur Brown’s debut LP, “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown,” was released in June 1968 and spawned one hit, “Fire,” which peaked at the top in October. Although Brown would not see the same chart success again, his influence would be felt in the music industry for decades to come.

While studying philosophy at the University of London and the University of Reading in the mid 1960’s, Arthur Brown walked amongst intellectual circles, but found himself drawn to the musical scene that dominated the culture of the era.  Finding himself drifting in and out of various bands, Brown eventually found himself as a member of the popular pop band The Foundations that were on the edge of signing a major music contract.  However, Brown was not satisfied with playing nice music for the mass audience.  Highly influenced by a year spent in Paris in 1966 where he studied theater, Brown had a vision where he would be more cutting edge than the Beatles, more deviant then the Rolling Stones and scare the shit out of Herman’s Hermits and The Hollies.  Leaving The Foundations after only a few weeks, Brown developed his own stage act called The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  Incorporating art, music, poetry and theater, Brown combined African mysticism with Faustian imagery and Greek mythology to develop a musical act like nothing known before.  Shocking audiences with his onstage antics and provocative appearance, Brown became the first music star of the British underground when he released his first LP The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  Clearly an acquired taste, Brown defied the odds as his debut single, Fire, rose to the top of the charts in October 1968 (ironically, The Foundations Build Me Up Buttercup placed on the charts at the same time).  Shocking censors when he appeared on popular European music shows Top of the Pops and Beat Club, Brown wasn’t a music star that you’d see in 16 Magazine, but he surely made an impression.  His screams and wails were unforgettable, and his eerie act was unlike anything in the British music industry.

Arthur Brown would never see the same chart success as he did with Fire, and would quickly be deemed a British novelty act.  But his influence would continue to be felt in the budding heavy metal scene that was still barely in its infancy.  Elements of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown could be seen in the music and stage shows of acts and artists such as Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, KISS, Kings X, Gwar and Marilyn Manson.  Before shock rock was even a genre, Arthur Brown had unknowingly created an entire genre of musical expression that would delight alienated youth and scare their parents.

Since discovering his album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, I have been fascinated with Brown and his legacy.  However, in reality Arthur Brown is as mystifying and as surprising as his stage alter ego.  Thoughtful and soft spoken, Brown relived his career with me in a lengthy conversation filled with stories and philosophies.  But often the real surprises were not in the stories we expected, but those we did not know.  What were the origins of his elaborate stage show, where did he disappear to in the 1980’s, and did Arthur Brown really set his head on fire at a show in 1967?  Surprisingly candid, Arthur Brown reveals so much to me.  Both on and off stage, Arthur Brown has the ability to inspire and fascinate.

CONFESSSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS

THE LEGEND OF THE GOD OF HELLFIRE: 

A CONVERSATION WITH ARTHUR BROWN

Sam: When you first developed The Crazy World, there wasn’t anything like shock rock.  How did you come up with the crazy idea create the crazy world of Arthur Brown.

Arthur Brown:  Well, it was really a product of a few different things.  I came up with the idea when I was living in Paris and I was around a lot of art and Jazz and blues music. I had this idea to have a multi-media club with statues, paintings and that kinds of stuff, but I had just gotten back to England and I had no money, so I thought that I’d put that multi-media idea into a band.  The multi-media stage show happened bit by bit and by chance usually.

Sam:  I know you found your first real success in Paris, and also became very popular in Germany.

Arthur:  When I was in Paris it was a really wild scene.  You got to be on TV three or for weeks in a row in France.  Nobody knew me in England.  A lot of experimental people would come to see us perform, and there were a lot of beatniks.  The hotel I was staying in was where a lot of ladies of the night would be, and they’d have a lot of wild parties.  We were playing three sets a night every night, and two of those on a Sunday.  After a while you get a bit bored and you start to experiment and improvise.  So I brought in lots of skits into the act, like General DeGaul cutting the Popes hair, and stuff like that.  The audience liked it, so when I got back to England I met Vincent Crane and Drachen Theaker, who made up the band that would eventually become The Crazy World, and we decided to try this multi-media thing with costumes.  But in those days most people didn’t really go for it.

Sam:  You were obviously a lot different than the established acts at the time.  How did you finally find your place in the music scene?

Arthur:  Well, we just happened one time to play The Speakeasy, and Joe Boyd, who was instrumental in starting the British underground, was looking for bands to play in the newly opened UFO Club.  The UFO Club became very popular in the music world.  There were all kinds of altered states in there.  And there were all kinds of experimentation with people doing experimental dance.  There was this one lot called The Exploding Galaxy who were quite adventurous.  There was alternative politics, alternative lifestyles and all kinds of stuff and all kinds of different music and technology bursting out.  We got the first ever sampler.  It was inbuilt sounds, but it could only take six sounds.  It was very primitive.  In the course of those concerts, at that time, I used the first radio mic in rock n’ roll.  I’d fly from the ceiling, with my head on fire.  Also, I met an artist in the communal place I was staying, who was into paganism and all the symbols of that and all the mythical traditions of the world.  So I started wearing the capes and gowns and it all came together gradually.

Sam:  Your original incarnation of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown show had a real Faustian theme running through it.  Was that in your head when you were putting together the act?

Arthur:  Well there were two inspirations really.  One was my interest in tribal stuff and there were a lot of TV documentaries about African tribes and they’d show this footage of African witch doctors and their mask and their dance.

Sam:  I can see the influence of that in the way you would paint your face and that voodoo dance that you do.

Arthur:  Yeah.  I looked to them and learnt from that and used what I could.  I did my version of it.  Also, our drummer had a whole collection of African music on records, and we used some of those rhythms into The Crazy World.  But also, I had quite an interest in Japanese Noh Theater, which was very ritualistic theater with masks.  But a lot of it was a product of the residual tension left over from the Second World War.  My family had been through the war, and the first house we lived in, which was a big hotel from my mother’s half, was bombed and reduced to dust.  So we moved to another house, and that was also reduced to dust.  We a had a few family members killed.  So by the end of the war my family was fairly traumatized.  A few family members were killed.  So my family was pretty tense with PTSD.  But my father was kind of an adventurous man, and also very interested in the different areas of the human spirit.  So, one day, when I was about twelve, I came home and I found another bicycle in the front hall, and I said “What’s that for?”  He said “I’ve brought a man home that is going to teach you how to empty your mind, because I know you are having a hard time in this family.”  But it meant by the time that I got to the age where I was writing songs, where most of the songs were about cars and women and all of that, I was more interested in what went on beneath the surface.  All the fire stuff had to do with that.  The fire had to do with the unconditioned spirit.  That became the imagery for that first stage act.  It was very shocking.  It was a departure from every day thinking.Sam:  There truly wasn’t anything that looked or sounded like anything like the music you were creating.  You were such a departure from your contemporaries like The Beatles or The Who.  When you were listening to the radio and you suddenly heard that scream – “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE” – it was jarring.

Arthur:  (Laughs)

Sam:  When you were doing your act, did you have a lot of people who didn’t get it?  Did you get a lot of push back?

Arthur:  Well a lot of people got very upset.  Some people got very violent.  We had our equipment kicked down the stairs.  We had people jump on the stage to beat us up.  Some people didn’t get it.  They resented it.  Some people, like members of the Hells Angels, would say to us “So you think you’re the god of hellfire, do you?”  On the other hand we had people who thought we were Satanic.  There were a lot of people who thought it was so strange, because in England it was the beginning of the underground scene, and they were so used to straight forward pop music that didn’t ask questions.  They’d hear us and go “What?”  We had them storm the stage.  I had to get out of the floor of a van so nobody could see me and find me.  We had people run up and punch me on stage in the middle of a song.  I wouldn’t see it coming and next thing I’d know I’d be waking up on the floor with blood pouring from my head.  It was just a very strange time.

Sam:  Were you at least a bit of a tough guy?  Could you defend yourself?

Arthur:  I’m not a street fighter, but I remember on time where a promoter came up to us and said “Why don’t you just go home.  Here is the money.  Don’t play the second set.”  I said “We came all the way from the South of England up here to the North so we will play.”  So he took me out to the balcony and he said “Look.  See those people down there?  They are going to storm the stage in the second part of your act and they want to destroy your equipment and beat you up.  I don’t want that, so why don’t you go home.”  I said “No.  We came to play so we’ll play.”  So I went upstairs and I found a glass case with a fire axe.  It was silver, double headed Viking axe with the curved blade.  It was a very fearsome looking blade.  So I went on stage with that, with my makeup and my head on fire and waved the axe at these people and they didn’t dare come on stage.  (Laughs)  Not until we got off anyways.  We were in our dressing rooms and they tried to break down the door and we had to escape through the back window.

Sam:  It’s just a testament to how you were doing something so interesting.  I mean, this type of stuff wasn’t happening to Herman’s Hermits.

Arthur:  (Laughs)

Sam:  So who were your fans?  Obviously you had a fan base.

Arthur:  Well for one thing we became popular with the hippie audience.  It was the beginning of all that, so I originally became credited as a hippie.  But when Fire came out it was not exactly a hippie thing.  So we had the support of the hippies, but the punks who later came on liked us.  The intellectuals, because Fire and the album and the show were thoughtful, gave us a lot of support.  We got the support of people who liked wild dancing and rhythms.  So it was the more progressive people who liked us.

Sam:  Do you feel like you were ahead of your time?  I mean a few years later heavy metal would happen and the guys like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were doing the exact same thing you were.

Arthur:  It’s been said that my place in music has been to be kind of a pioneer of theater and shock rock and gigantic stage performances.  Well, gigantic in those days.  It wasn’t gigantic like it is now because now they have technology that can take it a lot further.  Yeah.

Sam:  Well I know performers like Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and Bruce Dickinson have cited that you were a huge influence on them.  You can see the influence of your stage makeup and costumes in groups like KISS, The Misfits and Kings Diamond.  Do you often hear from performers like these in regards to your influence?

Arthur:  (Laughs) When I first met Bruce Dickonson, which was in 1994, the first thing he ever said to me when I walked into the room was “You will never know how many millions I’ve made out of what I’ve copied from you.”  He’s always been totally honest and has made his own way with it, and developed it in his own way.  It’s nice that something valid came out of what we explored.  It’s cool.  For me it was almost like a shamanic ritual show in a certain way.  The fact that it developed in all those directions, but not have had that same root or intention for the act, is interesting.  Initially I thought “Oh goodness” but then it’s all for entertainment.  But I’m astonished to find that the hippie philosophy and language has become incorporated into heavy metal as a result.

Sam:  In which ways would you say that that has happened?

Arthur:  Yeah.  All that gothic past and lots of English poetry.  Those big romantic worlds.  Lots of that imagery was from there.

Sam: Let’s talk about the big head dress that you would wear, which you would set on fire. Who built it? Where did you get it?

Arthur: It started as a crown which was really made out of really hard cardboard with candles on it that I found in the hotel in Paris. But that burnt out by the time I got back to England. So I got a vegetable colander and wore it upside down, and the candles were on it. But the wax used to come through the little holes and would get stuck on my hair. So we put a pie dish on top of it with petrol in it, and a strap around my head and under the chin. But that wobbled and I would get burns. So we ended up putting wings on the side. This was all developed with an artist friend of mine called Mike Reynolds. He lives in Canada now. Well, then we put on the pagan horns. Some people thought they were horns of the devil, but they were actually supposed to be the horns of Pan. So that was metallic, and we had the petrol in there, and we’d put strips of webbing up the horns and put com gum on them. We’d put cow gum on them, which actually had a really disgusting smell. But the flames would go quite high. The flames could get up to six feet up from my head. However, I don’t use that headdress much these days.

Sam:  You know I have to ask this one.  There is a famous story about your head catching fire during a performance.  Is that true or an urban legend?

Arthur:  Yeah.  It did catch fire.  That was in 1967 at the Windsor Jazz Festival.  People poured their beer on me to put it out.  There were also times where my clothes caught fire, and times where my clothes caught fire.  Yeah.  It’s dangerous.  It’s not an easy thing to, especially if you’re dancing as well.  You have to try to keep your head still and just move your body.

Sam: It’s amazing that you didn’t hurt yourself worse, or kill yourself.

Arthur:  Yeah.

Sam:  You folded up The Crazy World after one album and then eventually moved to a new project called Kingdom Come.  Was that a natural move for you?

Arthur:  Well in 1968 Fire was a hit in the United States, and things there were a lot different than they are now.  I would get off stage and there would be fourteen people in my hotel room.  They’d talk themselves in, because things were a bit more free form.  Because of the nature of Fire they may ask me questions about life and death and the meaning of everything.  I would give them all these great answers.  (Laughs)  But one afternoon I sat down and I realized that I didn’t actually know anything about these things and I was really quite ignorant.  So my decision was to go out and find the answers to these things.  I started a spiritual journey through all the different traditions of the world and took things from them.  So that changed my attitude towards a lot of things.  I also took some LSD, which was what people did in those days, and that gave me some visions and experiences I suppose.  So I didn’t really like the idea of hierarchal leadership anymore.  So I decided in my next band that I didn’t want to use all the theatrics, and I don’t want to use costumes or masks or do a stage act.  So I formed another band I had called Puddletown Express which was an experimental band and I’d perform naked quite a lot.

Sam:  Yes.  I read about this.  That act got you arrested, didn’t it?

Arthur:  Yes.  Well that was a little bit later in 1970.  It really depended where I was performing.  In France they asked me not to do the nakedness by the French communist party.  In England I didn’t seem to have any problem.  The band was an improvising band, so it was kind of the opposite of The Crazy World.  But The Crazy World kind of just wound itself down.  It’s kind of hard to keep an act like that going financially.  Well Puddletown Express was a little too radical for people who came expecting Fire and all of that.  But we were down in Glastonbury with Dennis Taylor, and I went off and did a kind of vision quest thing and decided that it had a choice between going to a Tibetan meditation center, or starting a new band as a way to move forward spiritually.  I decided to go with the band.  So I told Dennis about this and he said “What are you going to call it?”  I thought about it and said why not call it Kingdom.  He said “Well if you are going to call it Kingdom, why don’t you call it Kingdom Come?”  So we did.  Then we kind of brought people into the studio and tried out various musicians together.  We just improvised and put out what came from it.  From that came one complete song of the first album.  A song called Sunrise.  Then we just spent three months rehearsing every day, all day and all night, and wrote the rest of the album which was basically all the kind of expirations of the sixties.  What happened when it met the world of guns and money.

Sam:  Are you still on that spiritual journey?  Did you ever find the answers?

Arthur:  Well, all of those traditions have answers to everything.  If your very lucky you’ll find, in amongst the “so called” teachers, and there are lots of them, you find someone who kind of goes beyond all of that.  It takes you to where there is no journey and no answers.  You end up living in the moment.

Sam:  You continue to be active.  You are still performing music.  I saw a video of you doing a recent performance in a Goth club and the kids are going crazy with what you do.  It’s amazing.  Is it wild to go into these clubs and have the kids get into what you do?

Arthur:  Oh yeah.  These young people are open to experiment, open to new ideas and open to energies.  It doesn’t really matter to them what band is there, as long as the energy is there.  That’s what they respond to, and especially if they can dance.  There is something real about it, and they respond to it.  It’s lovely for me.  I’ve got a young band now and they have a kind of different attitude to music.  Because I’m with them, I’m absorbing some of the younger values of music and finding that it is a great adventure.  I love finding new music

Sam:  Well there are so much interesting performances featuring you on line.  There are acoustic performances, and a lot of blues influenced stuff.  Such a departure from the way audiences might initially think of you.  Again, it’s all very recent.  You seemed to have disappeared during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Were you making music at all during this period?  Was there a time where you didn’t make music?

Arthur:  Yes there was.  I got married to a lady from Texas, where things are big and wild.  We went to live there after we spent some time living in Africa.

Sam:  Wow.  From Africa to Texas.  That’s a wild change.

Arthur.  Yeah.  (Laughs)  Yeah.  Well Texas seemed fairly tame compared to where we were in Rwanda.  They were just having the first wave of slaughters there, so Texas seemed quite sane.  But now when you look at with the rattler snake churches where they prove that they love Jesus by bending down and picking up a poisonous snake.  The rodeo guys who are completely wild.  Yeah.  It’s an interesting place.  But we had a son there, and I was more interested in bringing up the family.  So I took up carpentry and had a house painting company.  I kept doing music on my own.  I wasn’t so much into the industry or the touring though.

Sam:  What got you back into touring?

Arthur:  After a fair amount of time doing the painting company, my then wife was about to become principal of this spiritual university and we had classes together.  So that kind of led into doing counseling and I became a qualified therapist with a degree and everything.  But I decided not to do the traditional counseling and instead relied on people writing improvised songs and jingles.  That was quite successful, and I was transplanting into the federal prison with really good results.

Sam:  Wow.  That must have been wild.

Arthur:  (Laughs) It’s not what they normally do in prisons.  (Laughs)  But I was in that sort of phase of improvisation with music, and I went over to a friends and she said that I should go and play Glastonbury.  So I put together and American band and we went over there and I hadn’t played in years.   Well it went over well, and we kept touring for a couple of years.  But during one performance in a very hot club, during a performance of Fire, I got a brain hemorrhage.  That finished that particular band.  I was out of commission for a couple of years.  While I was recovering I had to be out of the heat of Texas, so I came back to England.  Well after a couple of years I tried to gig with some local bands, and I realized I was okay.  I eventually came back in and I did a pretty heavy regime of touring up the hills and getting my strength back.  I’d sing every day in a church.  The vicar said “Yes you can sing here, as long as you don’t sing that Fire song.”  It was a wonderful small church where my voice sounded incredible.

Sam:  Well that would really bring out that banshee wail that became a trademark of yours.  Arthur, where did that scream of yours originate from?  It’s so unique, and so haunting.

Arthur:  Lots of bands screamed, but I knew that I could actually sing in that register.  I could not just scream, but sing in that voice.  So I had taken classical lessons, and I just practiced singing in that register and found a way to do it.  I’d imagine that note and just practiced and practiced until I did it.

Sam:  It’s just a haunting sound that rips through the ear drums.  I know you’ve worked with so many rock icons.  You worked with Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa.  Do you still stay in contact with other musicians?

Arthur:  Some of them.  It’s really more or less when you bump into them.  My so lives in Austin, Texas and I go there every year at Christmas.  Last Christmas I just happened to be crossing the road and I ran into Robert Plant.

Sam:  What’s Robert Plant doing in Austin?

Arthur:  He lives in Austin now.  Well, he invited me to his Christmas party.  I keep in touch with Peter Gabriel, and I bump into Jimmy Page occasionally.  It’s like that really.  They are not part of my daily life, but you go to awards ceremonies and you see them all again.  If you got a friend and you don’t see them in thirty years, it doesn’t matter.  You pick it up.

Sam:  I read that you have been doing speaking engagements throughout England now.  Is that a new type of gig for you?

Arthur:  I am developing it so it’ll be a two person thing, and there will be some music in it as well.  It’s not just sit down talk.  I tried the sit down talk and its okay, but it’s nicer if there is music.  The little touches and details come out in the stories.  It’s like sitting around a fire with friends.  Even if you heard the stories before it doesn’t matter.

Still considered to be underground nearly fifty years after his success with Fire, in recent years Arthur Brown has embraced his title of the godfather of shock rock. Now in his early 70’s Brown continues to make appearances throughout Europe bringing his brand of sinister mirth to both old and new audiences.  However his message still rings true.  He still wants to teach us to burn.   Although he primarily stays close to home in Europe, Brown will be bringing his act for a brief stay in Las Vegas in the summer of 2016.  Don’t miss your chance to see a true rock n’ roll pioneer and a fascinating performer.  For more information on Arthur Brown and his crazy world visit his web-site at http://www.arthur-brown.com/

Los Angeles based filmmaker Ansel Faraj put himself on the map of independent horror and fantasy in 2013 with “Doctor Mabuse.” Now he is back with his latest film, “The Last Case of August T. Harrison.”

It’s been a couple of years since I caught up with LA based film maker Ansel Faraj.  When we first spoke he was just about to release his feature length supernatural horror film Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar, the sequel to his successful 2013 film Doctor Mabuse, starring Jerry Lacy. In the years that have followed, Ansel’s Doctor Mabuse films have been very good to him, helping to put him on the map of the independent horror and fantasy film scene.  His dark and provocative films have gained their own unique following, especially via fans of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows who have supported the films due to the appearances of many DS alumnus’s including Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Laura Parker and Christopher Pennock.

“The Last Case of August T. Harrison” combines crime noir with horror and fantasy with strong ties to HP Lovecraft lore.

The collaboration between Ansel and Jerry has proved to be so successful that they have teamed up again for a brand new original film, The Last Case of August T. Harrison.  Released in late 2015, the film is a very original supernatural thriller in the Val Lewton style, which combines crime noir with HP Lovecraft lore.  Jerry Lacy plays August T. Harrison, an aged detective who investigates a missing persons case, only to get trapped into a dark world he never knew existed, and discovers that the mystery falls closer to home than he thinks.  A carefully crafted thriller, The Last Case of August T. Harrison is another triumph for Ansel Faraj.

Appearing throughout film festivals in 2015, horror fans can see The Last Case of August T. Harrison this year at the Depth of Field International Film Festival, Other Venice Film Festival Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival ,  Los Angeles CineFest ,  Wiper Film Festival, The Silver Scream Film Festival  and the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.

I was pleased to be able to talk to Ansel about The Last Case of August T. Harrison.  Having been sent a copy of the film, I was captivated by it and noticed the evolution of Ansel’s style, both as a writer and a filmmaker, in this remarkable film.  Although spoilers came up in our discussion, we were careful not to give anything away – especially in regards to the remarkable conclusion of the film.

Sam:  So how long ago did you finish The Last Case of August T. Harrison?

Actor Jerry Lacy stars as August T. Harrison. Best known to horror fans as the villainous Trask on “Dark Shadows,” Lacy starred as the sinister Doctor Mabuse in Ansel Faraj’s previous two feature length films: “It’s so wonderful working with Jerry. We are always on the same page.”

Ansel:  We finished shooting at the end of 2014 and finished it up in early 2015.  We started it on the festival circuit in late 2015.  It came out at Vimeo on Demand in November, but we are still doing the festival circuit.

Sam:  With the film having been finished for a while, are you still excited about this film or are you gearing up for the next project.

Ansel:  No.  I actually feel that this is just starting.  We shot it a year ago, and now that more people are able to see it I am even more revved up to promote it and talk about it because I know it’s a good film.

Sam:  You received high praise for your Doctor Mabuse films, which really put you on the map.  What has the reception for this film been like?

Ansel:  It’s been a bit of a slower build this time.  Doctor Mabuse was a known property, and it was the first time that the Dark Shadows actors had come back together for a film.  So that was a novelty, and I wasn’t aware of the impact that it was having.  With this film, it is an original concept.  It deals with HP Lovecraft and his world, but August T. Harrison is my original character.  It’s also not Dark Shadows centric, although it does star Jerry Lacy.  I feel like I’ve been pushing more for this film, but I’ve just started pushing harder now that it’s more readily available.

Sam:  I really enjoyed your Doctor Mabuse films, but I really noticed the evolution in your storytelling in this film.

Ansel:  Thank you.

Sam:  What was your initial inspiration for August T. Harrison and the story?

Nathan Wilson co-stars in the role of classic horror writer HP Lovecraft.

Ansel:  Well, I had done the two Mabuse films with Jerry Lacy, and Jerry and I get along very well.  It’s so wonderful working with Jerry.  We are always on the same page.  Well, when we were doing the premier of Doctor Mabuse in San Diego, Kathryn Leigh Scott said to me “You’ve got to do a noir.  A full on detective noir with Jerry Lacy.  You’ve got Humphrey Bogart.”  I thought that it would be cool, but that was in 2013.  We did the second movie, and then I was going to do another film called Todd Tarantula, but that didn’t work out.  So I needed to do something where I can take a hold of my existing resources and do something grounded and realistic instead of something as opposed to the fantasy of Mabuse.  So what’s my best asset?  It’s Jerry Lacy.  Kathryn’s suggestion came back to me and I’ve always been a fan of Lovecraft.  So I thought what would be cool is to do a film noir mixed with HP Lovecraft.  I knew Jerry would play the part.  I’d write for his voice, because he has such a great voice.  When we were doing the Mabuse films the dialogue is pretty crazy, but he makes it work.  I knew that I needed that voice over to really give the insight to his slowly fractured mind. I just wrote this really sad guy living in Venice, California.

Sam:  I thought your use of Venice to be very interesting.  Do you live in or near Venice?

Ansel:  Yeah.  I live on Venice Boulevard.  Venice Beach is just five minutes away.

Sam:  I loved the way that you used Venice.  It got me very nostalgic for Venice and Santa Monica.

Ansel:  So you do understand the weirdness of Venice.  It’s a very oddball area.

Sam:  So what do you love about Venice?

Shooting around Venice Boulevard and Venice Beach, Ansel uses the character and weirdness of the famed LA area as the backdrop to “The Last Case of August T. Harrison” : “Venice has a certain kind of magic too it.”

Ansel:  Well, as I said, it’s an odd little area and it’s very atmospheric in a cinematic way.  Orson Welles used Venice in Touch of Evil for the Mexican border town. Where we were shooting was in the same intersection that Welles filmed that.  Being an LA kid I try to scout as many LA film locations as I can.  Especially old LA because we have horrible track habit of destroying our old buildings.  But Touch of Evil was a huge influence along with Curtis Harrigton’s Night Tide, which are both set in Venice.  And then you add Lovecraft – you’ve got the beach, you’ve got the water.  You remember in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button how they said that a story like that could only happen in New Orleans because there is a certain type of magic there?  Venice has a certain kind of magic too it, and although Lovecraft is East Coast and Venice is West Coast, it would work.

Sam:  I love the fact that you never really see the monster, but you can hear it and see a tentacle here or there.  It was a really Val Lewton type effect.  Was that intentional or was it a matter of budget?

Ansel:  It’s a bit of both.  As I’ve said, I needed to use my immediate resources, and I’ve always loved Val Lewton’s films.  The Seventh Victim and The Leopard Man in particular.  They aren’t supernatural based but they have this really great sense of atmosphere in a city environment.  So I always wanted to make a film in the Val Lewton mode, and this was a perfect opportunity to work in that tradition.  There is a nod to it in the scene in the canal, and Jerry can hear something following him, and then the car comes along.  That was a direct reference to Cat People with the bus.  And Val Lewton had very restricted budgets himself.  All the sets were reused from the RKO films.

Sam:  Well you do that very well.  Where did you find the rest of your cast?

Maggie Wagner as Elenora in “The Last Case of August T. Harrison.”

Ansel:  Jerry, Nathan Wilson and I cast the film.  We spent September through November 2013 looking for actors to play Elenora, Jason and Drake.  Jerry, Nate and David Graham came from Doctor Mabuse, so they just carried over.  I worked with Lisa Richards in Theater Fantastique.  But everyone else we cast.  We were looking for a younger woman than Maggie Wagner to play the role of Elenora.  Originally she was supposed to be in her late 20’s, but it seemed that we saw every young actress that had ever come to LA to make it, and none of them I could quite believe.  I realized I needed someone with a little more maturity.  Someone who lived a little more.  So I met Maggie Wagner at the Actors Studio.  Christopher Pennock introduced Maggie to me.  There is a quality about her that is Elenora to me.

Sam:  I agree, and she looks like one of the type of characters you’d meet at Venice Beach!

Ansel:  Yeah (laughs).  She had a really tricky way coming in.  The way that the schedule worked out, we started filming without an Elenora.  We started filming in December, but Jerry had to do the Dark Shadows cruise in January and we couldn’t pick up until the end of January.  So we had the three days for the Elenora, and the way we shot the film she had to play her scenes backwards.  It’s very complicated because you’ve got to work with one certain process and then go backwards into being a “nice character.”  She was fantastic at it!  There were really subtle things, and she brought a lot of humor into it.  I am so impressed with the way she did it.

Sam:  Let’s talk about the film’s ending.  Of course I don’t want to give away the ending, but it was one hell of an ending.  In an age where we’ve seen everything, it’s difficult to create an effective twist ending.  Did you have that ending in your mind from the beginning of filming, and what sort of reaction have you gotten from the audience to it?

Jerry Lacy as August T. Harrison with his family, Lisa Blake Richards as Susan and Eric Garlow as Jason; “Well believe me; I had an ending where I could have destroyed these people.’

Ansel:  The ending actually was originally much darker than I had planned.  It was a bleak Lovecraftian ending.  Well Jerry was reading the script and discussing it, and we knew that it wasn’t going to work.  So I started thinking that I might need to do a happier ending for once where things work out.  So it was hard to make the ending work out without being schmaltzy.  So with the atmosphere of the film, and the fact that everything is off side and implied and that we’re never quite sure what’s happening that I decided it would be a supernatural story.  Then it all sort of clicked.  But it took a lot of time to get there, and I took a lot of input from the actors.  David Grahame gave some input.  Jerry gave some input.  My Dad actually gave me a lot of input.  He said “Nobody wants to leave the theater depressed.”

Sam:  Well, even as the movie is winding down, you realize you like the characters and you want them to be okay.  It’s such a good ending!

Ansel:  There’s a funny story.  Bill Wandell, who is the film’s composer and has been working with me for quite a while, saw the film and said “Ansel!  That’s such a great ending!  I can’t believe people survived!”  I said “Well believe me; I had an ending where I could have destroyed these people.”  He was pretty amused with that, because he’s used to my bloody downbeat end of the world endings.

Sam:  When you show it in cinemas, how is the audience reaction?

David Graham as Professor Richard Hobb and Maggie Wagner as Elenora in “The Last Case of August T. Harrison.”

Ansel:  Everyone is usually taken aback.  The way that Jerry plays it there is about fifty emotions that runs in his eyes in that scene.  Everybody is on the edge of their seats.  Everyone is usually very enthusiastic, and then they want to know if there is a sequel.

Sam:  Is there a sequel?

Ansel:  No.  They need to have their happy ending.

Sam:  What are you working on now?

Ansel:  Well, last year I did a short film called Whatever Happened to Detective Adam Sera.  Adam Sera is a comic book character I created in high school and I’ve been writing stories about him for a while.  We’re going to do a second one, and hopefully we’ll be filming soon.  Because I started working with the Dark Shadows group repeatedly, I wanted to do something that was very much my own and have no Dark Shadows connection.  Just to see what I could do on my own.  Adam Sera got a good reaction.  I’m going to try to keep that tradition with this series at least.

Sam:  You have been successful doing horror and fantasy films, and now you’ve worked the noir element into that.  Are you planning on sticking to these genres?

Ansel:  Well, I do want to do other things.  One of my all-time director heroes is Robert Altman, and he dabbled in every kind of genre.  I’d love to do a musical.  A crazy, psychedelic rock n’ roll musical.  I’d like to do an action film.  I’d love to do a Batman movie.  I don’t plan to stay in this particular genre.  I’m just going to just roll with and see what happens.

A talented young writer and director with a mind that doesn’t stop working, Ansel Faraj is the future of horror and fantasy.  Well versed in the history of the medium, Ansel is a man with a love and understanding for the medium, and has an uncanny ability to bring interesting people together to create his dark fantasy’s on screen.  I’m excited to see what comes next from the dark corners of Ansel’s mind.  For more information on Ansel’s projects visit the Hollinsworth Productions web-site at http://www.hollinsworthproductions.com/.

“Mean” Gene Okerlund carved a unique career for himself as the man who has interviewed the biggest stars in the world of wrestling for over five decades.

Gene Okerlund has had prossibly one of the most unusual careers in pop culture history.  Instantly recognizable to those who watched wrestling in its heydays of the 1980’s, the small statured balding man was thrown into the room to interview the towering titans of the ring.  As a result, there isn’t anyone who Gene Okerlund didn’t work with. With his warm yet authoritative voice, and through much bewilderment, Gene was part commentator, part ring master and part straight man to massive personalities and egos, as week after week he listened to the stars of the wrestling world rant, rave, threaten and scream about what they would do to their opponents.  Well, somebody had to do it, and Gene has made a career in this strange world for over five decades. As a result, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, and was given a lifetime contract, without ever having a chair broken over his head or being thrown down on the matt.

Starting in radio in Minnesota, Gene began his career as an on-air wrestling personality when he replaced Marty O’Neil in the AWA (American Wrestling Association) in 1974.  Featuring the biggest wrestling stars of the era, Gene Okerlund got his chops talking with the wrestlers, and gained a reputation for his good natured personality, his sense of humor and his ability to maintain a sense of order in what was often a maddening environment.  It was during his time in the AWA that Gene Okerlund met wrestler, and later rival commentator, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who gave Gene the nickname “Mean” Gene, playing on the irony of Gene’s reputation for being one of the nicest guys in the industry.  The name stuck, and fans would forever refer to him as Mean Gene.

Since 1974, “Mean” Gene Okerlund has worked with the biggest names in wrestling acting as commentator, straight man and ring leader.

In 1984 the AWA saw many of their top talent move over to the WWF, which was becoming a cultural phenomenon of the 1980’s and bringing the wrestling to a level of popularity never known before.  Gene Okerlund followed over to the WWF where he became one of the most recognizable personalities of the organization.  Appearing in multiple segments each week on the various programs across North America that ran WWF fights, Mean Gene would conduct the promotional interviews with the bravest heroes, the baddest heels and the biggest stars.  Mean Gene knew them all, and he saw it all.

An icon of my youth, I had the great pleasure to do a brief interview with Gene Okerlund during a public appearance.  However, with his handler giving me the eye and pointing at her watch, I only had minutes to ask the questions I wanted to ask.  But a professional to the end, Gene Okerlund fit a lot in a lot in the time we had.

CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS

THE NICEST MEANEST GUY IN ALL OF WRESTLING: A CONVERSATION WITH MEAN GENE OKERLUND

A young Gene Okerlund interviews Andre the Giant for the AWA. Starting his career in wrestling in 1974, Gene would work for the AWA, WWF and WCW before getting a lifetime contract with the WWE.

Sam Tweedle:  You probably had one of the most unique jobs in the wrestling industry by interviewing all of the different personalities.  How does one get a job like that?

Mean Gene Okerlund:  Well, you’ve got to be connected.  It wasn’t talent.  I knew the right people in the right places, and as you would know being a media guy, I had a lot of pictures.  They were compromising, and some people didn’t want those pictures seen.  As a result, I got the best job on the block.

Sam:  You had to deal with a lot of big personalities in your job.  Who were some of your favorite guys to work with?  The kind of guys that you liked to see when they came into the room to talk with you.

Dealing with a lot of different eccentric personalities, Gene Okerlund had to be ready for anything.

In 2006 Gene Okerlund was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame without ever getting body slammed or a chair broken over his head.

Mean Gene:  There are quite a few guys who could meet that description.  Guys that could really liven things up.  I like to go by era.  I started back in the ‘70’s with Mad Dog Vachon, Nick Bockwinkel, Andre the Giant…Bobby Heenan was even there.  But, some of the old time guys like Killer Kwalski and Bruno Sanmartino were really big names back in the 70’s.  But then it progressed to Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mick Foley, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Brett Hart, Sean Michaels.  Where do I stop?

Sam:  Where there ever any guys that actually sort of scared you?

Mean Gene:  Yes there were some guys that scared me.  One was a former British Empire Champion named Billy Robinson.  The “late” Billy Robinson.  He was a scary guy.  He was very explosive, very volatile.  Another guy was Tony Atlas.  He was one of only two guys who ever laid a hand on me.

Sam:  What do you feel the biggest moment in your career was?

Gene Okerlund was given his moniker “Mean” Gene by Jesse “the Body” Ventura as a play on his reputation for being the nicest guy in the wrestling industry.

Mean Gene:  Well, I’d have to document it by event, but suffice to say I had a great run and the good part about it is that I’m doing today what I’ve been doing my entire life.  I’m still working for the WWE, I’m hosting Vintage Collection and doing a lot of fan events.  I’m doing what I like to do, and I’m working with people that I like to be around.

Sam:  Have you ever thought about writing a book?

Mean Gene:  Well, I just finished my second book.  I’m going to write a third book one of these days.  I’ve got the manuscripts locked in the lower left hand drawer of the desk in my office.  As I look over the Gulf of Mexico from my window, I can be very creative.  Add a little Jack Daniels and I have a very good memory.  Mine would not just be another wrestling book.  It would be a tell-all.  It would blow the whistle on everybody!

Oh man.  Imagine the stories that Gene Okerlund isn’t telling us….yet!  Although he was friendly and very giving of his time, it was obvious that Gene was cautious not to ever say much about anything.  Perhaps it was because of the lack of time that we had to talk, or maybe it’s because he is saving it for the book.  But as he seems to make references to multiple times, he is obvious a man who knows a lot of secrets, which he hasn’t told yet.  I mean, what did he mean about the “compromising photos?”  Was he yanking my chain?  I really couldn’t tell.  Mean Gene is a man with a lot of possible secrets.

But Gene Okerlund lives up to his reputation.  He truly is one of the nicest guys in the wrestling industry.  There is a reason he was so successful at what he did.  Behind that moustache and that smile, Gene Okerlund has intelligence; personality and charisma which helped him do a job which could be one of the most difficult gigs in media.  Wrestling is a strange world, and it would take a lot of grit combined with a sense of humor to be so emerged in the industry like Gene Okerlund is.  But when it comes to grit, Gene Okerlund has tons of it, which is what has made him the most unusual wrestling legend of all time.

Charlotte Rae was the den mother of the children of the 1980’s.  Full of spunk and good advice, every kid wish they had someone as wise and understanding as Mrs. Edna Garret.  Introducing her beloved character in the first season of the groundbreaking all ages sit-com Diff’rent Strokes in 1978, Charlotte Rae made Mrs. Garrett a television icon when she was successfully spun off in her own sit-com, The Facts of Life, from 1979 until she departed the series in 1986.  Playing the house mother to a quartet of sassy private school girls, The Facts of Life was unique as it was one of the first television series to seriously, yet sensitively, focus on the issues surrounding modern young women growing up in the 1980’s.  With a wide range of topics including grades, sex, boys, divorce, pregnancy, disabilities and rape, Mrs. Garrett was the calming, but quirky, voice of comfort for not only the girls of Eastland, but to the viewers who watched her each week on television.

Studying theater at Northwestern University in the 1940’s, Charlotte Rae had a desire to become a serious stage actress.  However, through the influences of her friendships with future stars Paul Lynde and Cloris Leachman, she soon found success working as a comedic performance.  Relocating to New York after graduation, Charlotte found work in such stage productions as Pickwick, Romeo and Juliet and Lil’ Abner.  But when television hit New York like storm in the 1950’s, like most actors of the time Charlotte quickly found herself in front of the camera.

In 1961 Charlotte got her first series playing Al Lewis’ wife  Sylvia Schnauser in the classic cop spoof Car 54, Where are You?  Although the series would only last two seasons, it would be popular enough to make Charlotte Rae a favorite for writers and producers, which would create a direct line to eventually having the role of Edna Garrett created for her nearly twenty years later.

This winter Charlotte Rae, now 89 years old, released her new autobiography, The Facts of My Life, talking about her life on the stage and screen, as well as the personal trials that she in private.  Written alongside her son Larry Strauss, Charlotte talks about her life on screen and stage, but also about her battle with cancer, caring for her autistic son  Andy, and her heartbreak when she discovered that her husband, John Strauss, was gay in the 1970’s.

I had the great pleasure to talk with Charlotte Rae about her life, and some of the things that she talks about in her book.  Although she didn’t reveal everything, careful to leave something for the readers, the two of us had delightful and fast paced conversation about her memories as an actress working on the stage, television and movies.

 READ FULL INTERVIEW

Paul Petersen – child actor, TV icon, teen idol, pop star and social crusader.

Paul Petersen has been many things in his career – child star, teen idol and pop star.  However, his ongoing legacy in Hollywood goes far beyond these accomplishments.

Starting his professional career at age nine, Paul was one of the original kids hired to be a Mousekteer on The Mickey Mouse Club.  However, before the cameras even rolled, Paul was the first kid fired from the show when, legend has it, that he punched the casting director in the studio commissary.  A few acting roles followed, with the most noteworthy being a part alongside Cary Grant and Sophia Loren in Houseboat in 1958.  However, Paul would become part of Americana later that year when he was cast in the role of Jeff Sloane on the classic family sit-com The Donna Reed Show.

Paul Petersen, Shelly Fabares, Donna Reed and Carl Betz as The Sloane Family on “The Donna Reed Show.”

In the role of ‘All American Boy’ Jeff, Paul quickly became one of the era’s top teen idols, appearing on magazine covers and becoming the teenage fantasy of girls all across America.  Paul even had a brief flirtation with music when he had minor pop successes in the early 1960’s with Lollipop and Roses, She Can’t Find Her Keys and My DadThe Donna Reed would be a televisions staple until 1966, but when the series went off the air, like most young actors, Paul found it harder and harder to find work.  The days of the family sitcom and the popularity of the ‘All American Boy’ were over, and Paul Petersen was finding that his acting career fading at an alarming

However, there was a much important work for Paul Petersen than just being a TV star.  Paul would use these experiences to do so much more.

Since 1990 Paul Petersen has been helping child actors, both current and from the past, as the head of A Minor Consideration.

In 1990, after the suicide of his friend and contemporary Rusty Hamer, Paul Petersen  put together A Minor Consideration, an organized support group for former child stars that are suffering from any sort of issue due to their unique experience of being in front of the camera.  From drug addiction to sexual, physical and emotional abuse, to exploitation and any other sort of injustice that children may face as the result of show business, be it In the past or the present, Paul Petersen has lead the charge to make sure that this unique subculture of people are taken care of.  An accomplished writer, for decades Paul has written extremely thoughtful and hard hitting essays about the harsh reality faced by child stars on A Minor Conisderation’s web-site.  He is a man who knows the laws, knows the history of children in entertainment, and takes a keen interest in making sure that the best interests of the child is put forth on movie and television sets.

Simply put, Paul Petersen is a true crusader.

I have been aware of Paul’s work for years, and have been an admirer of his writing and essays. Thus, it was a great thrill to be able to talk to Paul Petersen about the work he does, and how A Minor Consideration is preparing itself to ensure that its work will continue in the future.

 

READ FULL INTERVIEW 

REMEMBERS

YVONNE CRAIG

1937 – 2015

“I meet women today who tell me that they grew up viewing Batgirl as an important role model. If they choose to know me in that context, well, I’ll take it.” – Yvonne Craig

The perfect combination of sexiness, sophistication and spunk, Yvonne Craig became the “first crush” of generations of fanboys.

Yvonne Craig had a face that launched a thousand pop culture articles.

I remember that it was a rainy day when I woke up at noon on July 16th, 2004, and due to a day of back breaking labor the day before, I woke up to a body was broken and bruised and my fingers were so raw that the skin had been torn from them. I only had enough strength to pull myself from my bed to the couch.  Flipping on the television, I was delighted to find the 1965 AiP Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman vehicle Ski Party on City-TV.  Light and campy, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.  But it wasn’t Frankie and Dwayne dressed in drag that grabbed my attention.  It was their beautiful co-star, Yvonne Craig,  as lovely co-ed Barbara Norris that made my morning just a little bit less stormy. You see, Yvonne Craig has always been a favorite of mine. Since I was a young boy I had a yen for Yvonne Craig and a flood of nostalgia of rushing home from school to watch Yvonne dressed in her famous purple and yellow costume on Batman came over me.  Well it inspired me to do I something I had never done before, but would go on to change my entire destiny.

A sexy, if not slightly “over the top” publicity photo of Yvonne Craig for AiP’s 1965 co-ed comedy “Ski Party.” A mid afternoon screening of the film would launch what would eventually become PCA.

I had found myself in a position in my life where I was starting to discover that I had a talent for expressing myself in the written word and, with “blogs” being a new found craze, I had recently created one.  At that time my entries were nothing more than narcissistic rants about whatever struck me as interesting about my life on that day.  Well, on the morning of July 16th, 2004 the most interesting thing in the world to me was Yvonne Craig.  Moving from the couch to the computer, I wrote a love letter to Yvonne Craig and put it on my “blog.”

That letter would be the first pop culture article to be published on the internet, long before PCA was even an idea.  It was the article that spawned over a decade of pop culture adventures, reviews, celebrity interviews, press rooms and a professional career as an arts and entertainment writer.  In fact, the letter is still housed at PCA here.

Before ever dawning the famous purple and yellow bat-suit, Yvonne Craig was one of the most prolific young character actresses in Hollywood.

With those deep eyes, dark hair, turned up nose and impish smile, Yvonne Craig was the perfect combination of sexiness, sophistication and spunk.  She had a good girl quality about her, but she was the kind of good girl that could lead a boy to do anything she wanted.  She was like that bad seed preacher’s daughter that prayed every Sunday, but talked you into stealing candy for her from the five and dime after church.  But most of all, thanks to her roles in some of 1960’s televisions most iconic cult programs, she became the first crush of generations of fan boys everywhere.

Of course Yvonne Craig will always be closely connected to playing the dual role of Batgirl and Barbara Gordon in the third and final season of Batman.  But what doesn’t always get recognized was her direct inspiration in the creation of the character.  It’s really sort of the “chicken and the egg” argument.  Who came first?  Yvonne Craig or Batgirl?

In a rare example of television and comic publisher’s working together in unison, Yvonne Craig was hired in 1966 to play the newly created Batgirl in an attempt to boost sagging rating for the third season of “Batman.”

After starting off hot in 1966, by the fall of 1967 Batman was on its final legs.  Batmania was dying off, the joke was getting old and rating were dropping fast.  Devoting two nights a week to their schedule for the past two seasons, ABC decided to cut Batman back to one night a week.  However, the producers felt that maybe a new gimmick would bring the ratings back.  Maybe a little bit of sex appeal would put the BAM and POW back into Batman.  Maybe it was time for a “Batgirl.”

Now in the comic books there had been both a Bat-Girl – Bettie Kane who was the niece of the more established Kathy Kane (aka Batwoman) who had only appeared in the comic a total of three times.  However, Batwoman and Bat-Girl hadn’t been seen in the comics for years, and establishing obscure comic characters wasn’t what TV executive William Dozier had in mind for his show.  Instead, he approached DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz with a concept that Batgirl should be the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon and nobody should know her true identity. The idea was pretty original, and it was agreed that Batgirl would be reborn as Barbara Gordon.   Schwartz and his team got to work on the idea, and Dozier and his team hired Yvonne Craig to play the character.

Batgirl made her first comic book appearance in “Detective Comics #359,” followed by Yvonne Craig’s screen debut as Batgirl a few weeks later. Batgirl was an intant hit, and has become one of the most imporant and recognized female comic book characters in history.

In a rare example of a studio and a comic company working together in unison on the same concept, Batgirl would made her debut in Detective Comics #359 and a few weeks later Yvonne made her first appearance in the famous purple Bat-suit on television.  Although Batgirl was a definitely high concept novelty in the comics, Yvonne brought Batgirl to life with her high kicks and coy charm, exposing the character to an audience far beyond comics and securing her in the public subconscious. Even if they hadn’t read a comic book in their life, everybody knew there was a Batgirl.  Never in the history of comics, then or since, had the wide-spread knowledge of a character existed in the public mind.   Batgirl was an instant hit with readers and viewers alike and would become one of the most important female comic book characters in history.  Although it might have been possible that Batgirl would have made her on legacy in comic books alone, it was Yvonne Craig’s performance that made the character an overnight success and an instant fan favorite.

Yvonne Craig in 1964 making time with Elvis Presley in “Kissin’ Cousins.” This would be the second film she made with Elvis having previously appeared in “It Happened At the World Fair” (1963.

But what seems to be forgotten by the modern audience is that Yvonne Craig was far more than just Batgirl.  The reason she got the role in the first place was the fact that by 1966 Yvonne Craig was one of the most prolific young character actresses in Hollywood.  Likeable, subtle and fun, Yvonne Craig was the girl who showed up in just about everything.  She was a semi-regular on Dobie Gillis, appeared in two Elvis films (It Happened at the World’s Fair and Kissin’ Cousins), starred in the Tommy Kirk sci-fi stinker Mars Needs Women, was featured as a Russian ballerina in In Like Flint with James Coburn and made appearances in dozens of TV series including Gidget, Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, McHale’s Navy, My Favorite Martian, Ben Casey, The Man from UNCLE, The Big Valley and My Three Sons long before she became Batgirl.

In 1969 Yvonne Craig seduced fan boys everywhere in the role of Marta on the classic “Star Trek” episode “Whom God Destroys.” Painted green for the episode, her performance would become part of the pop culture lexicon.

And who could not forget her erotic performance as Marta the green skinned alien in the classic Star Trek episode Who God Destroys?  Seductive and insane, Yvonne Craig’s dance captivated millions of sci-fi fans and the role became a part of the cultural lexicon.  It was Yvonne Craig that made Captain Kirk’s “green skinned” woman a sexual fantasy of fan boys for generations.

So all of this was running through my head as I wrote a letter to Yvonne Craig about how, as a young boy, I fell in love with her watching Batgirl.  However, with a sudden moment of inspiration, I looked up Yvonne Craig’s web-site and shot a link to her contact e-mail.

Imagine my surprise when a day later I got the following message from Yvonne Grail:

“Dear Sam.  Thank you for the VERY flattering open letter.  It made me blush!  I would love to send you a copy of my book (for fun summer reading) if you’ll send me a snail mail address.  Enjoy what is left of summer. Best, Yvonne”

In 2000 Yvonne Craig released her memoirs, “From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond.”

My heart burst with joy with this wonderful message.  Never before had my words found their way to the subject, and not to mention one that held a place in my heart.  The kindness of  her acknowledgement made me realize that I was not as far from my icons as I thought, and it had a huge impact on me continuing to write.

Well, I did send Yvonne my home address and a few weeks later I received an autograph copy of her autobiography From the Ballet to Batgirl and Beyond.  Inside was a personalized note that read “For Sam.  Enjoy!  Yvonne Craig.”  A fantastic read, the book captured the full extent of Yvonne’s illustrious career as she told very open and blunt about the people she loved (David McCallum, Bill Bixby, Elvis Presley) and the people she did not (Charles Bronson, William Shatner, Desi Arnaz).  A wonderful read, it was filled with stories of a working actress during one of television’s most exciting eras.  They were stories from a woman who was surrounded by the greatest pop culture legends of Hollywood and wasn’t afraid to talk openly about it.  The book was a wonderful gift from Batgirl to a boy who loved her.  The book still sits on the bookshelf in my office and is a cherished possession.

Yvonne Craig and I never met or spoke in person despite always being about one degree of separation from one another.  A few interview requests fell dormant, and a recent personal appearance was cancelled.  But there was one more article about Yvonne Craig left to write.  This morning I sat down and wrote my second article about Yvonne Craig.  This time it was her obituary.  Life is so bitter sometimes.

Since that rainy afternoon when I wrote my open letter to Yvonne Craig I have lived three lifetimes.  Everything has changed.  But when rereading my letter to Yvonne this morning, with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I realized that one thing that had never changed was how I felt about her.  Really, in all these years it pretty much still says exactly what I feel and, right now, it has more of an impact than ever before.  It strikes a well-aimed yellow booted high kick right to my heart.

As long as there is a Batgirl, a little bit of Yvonne Craig will always be alive in our hearts and our minds forever.  Holy bitter-sweet, Batman!

 

REMEMBERS

PATRICK MACNEE

1922 – 2015

“Mrs. Peel, we’re need.”  – Tag line to The Avengers.

“I like clubs and pubs and bowler hats.  I like whiskey and lime.” – Patrick Macnee on the 1964 novelty record “Let’s Keep it Friendly.”

“Now don’t you worry John, things will be okay.  Just pick up your umbrella and bowler and go on your eccentric way.” – “The Ballad of John and Emma” by failed 17 year old poet Sam Tweedle.

Already a throw back when he took on the role of John Steed in the classic spy series The Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee became a symbol of British mod culture with his trademark bowler hat and umbrella.

In his 1988 autobiography Blind in One Ear, British character actor Patrick Macnee told of a morning in 1982 when he received a panicked phone call from his daughter Jenny who had just received news of his death.  Apparently, reports had gone over the news wires that Macnee, most famous for his portrayal of super spy John Steed in the iconic 1960’s spy series The Avengers, had died of “natural causes” and reporters were calling his family for comment.  At a healthy age 60, Macnee was still alive and kicking and the press had it all wrong.  Instead it was British actor Patrick Magee, who had been in A Clockwork Orange and Chariots of Fire, who had died.  The name was close, but Macnee had a lot of living left to do.

Thirty three years later the news wires have reported that Patrick Macnee has died again.  This time there was no mistake.  They got it right.  At age 93 Patrick Macnee died quietly at his home in Rancho Mirage, CA.  The world is a little less classy without him.

During the 60′s over-saturated spy craze, Patrick Mcnee carved out his own unique niche with an eccentric old world charm, differentiating him from such contemporaries as James Bond, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuyakin and John Drake.

I can’t even begin to explain the influence that Patrick Macnee and his portrayal of John Steed had on me growing up as a teenager.  During the 90’s, while my pals ran home to play guitars with their garage bands after high school, I was running home to watch The Avengers on A&E.  While they tried to emulate Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, I was trying to emulate Patrick Macnee.  They dressed in plaid and doc martins and I wore jackets and hats.  They knew all the lyrics to Creep and No Rain, I knew all the lyrics to Kinky Boots and Let’s Keep It Friendly.  I even once attempted to buy a bowler hat but I sadly discovered that I looked more like Oliver Hardy than John Steed.  I decided to stick with the fedoras.

But there was little doubt that Patrick Macnee had a certain hold on me as a teenager, and I thought he was certified cool.  I mean, he was always an old guy.  Even when he made The Avengers in the mid 1960’s he was past his baby faced prime and already had a stodgy old world feel about him.  What the appeal of Patrick Macnee was, both in the 1960’s and through the decades, was the fact that he had a genuine eccentric appeal that was based entirely on charm and class.  With a wink in his eye, a bounce in his step and a sing song quality in his voice Patrick Macnee seemed to live life a little bit differently, and a little bit finer.  He was the embodiment of the Victorian dandy living in the world of the 60’s spy craze.  While Napoleon Solo used a gun, Steed used a fencing foil concealed in an umbrella.  While James Bond scored with the ladies with a blunt sexuality, Steed seduced them with subtle innuendos and whimsical ad-libs.   While John Drake fought hard with his fists, Steed seemed to be dancing a flamboyant waltz during a fight.  The Avengers were little bit camp and a little bit fetish, but it was all charm and class.

Patrick Macnee with actress Anneke Wills in the classic Avengers episode “Dressed to Kill.” According to Wills, when the cameras stopped rolling, Patrick Macnee continued to be John Steed. The man and the character were one and the same.

But where did the character of John Steed start, and where did it end?  Who was I trying to emulate – the actor or the character?  Well, according to one actress I spoke to, reality and fiction bled together between Macnee and Steed.  When I was 19 years old I went to a small science fiction convention (although, in reality, you could have barely even called it that) in the basement of a church in Toronto where they had flown in British actress Anneke Welles to talk about her time as obscure 1960’s Doctor Who companion Polly opposite William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.  With most of her Doctor Who episodes missing, those in attendance were excited to know about her time on the cult sci-fi series.  However, I was enamored by her because she played the woman dressed as a pussycat that hung off of Patrick Macnee in the classic 1963 Avengers episode Dressed to Kill.  Clinging on to a photo of her and Patrick Macnee to get signed, I gushed when I asked her “What was Patrick Macnee really like?”  Anneke explained to me that Patrick Macnee and John Steed were virtually one and the same.  When the cameras stopped rolling, Macnee didn’t change.  She claimed that Macnee wasn’t even acting.  He was just playing the character as if it was himself.  That elegance, wit, charm and love for finery was an important part of his actual personality that the producers on The Avengers would even let him ad-lib as he went along.

In the roles of super spies John Steed and Emma Peel, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg became one of the most unique screen couples in the history of television. A natural chemistry and connection between the actors allowed the characters to grow organically to the point that the producers allowed the pair to ad-lib their own banter.

Which was an important element in the magical chemistry between him and Dame Diana Rigg when they were paired as John Steed and Emma Peel in 1965.  Most casual pop culture fans don’t realize that Rigg was actually the fourth of Macnee’s Avengers co-stars, but her popularity was so immense that she would eventually out shadow him as the icon of the series.  But despite her popularity, you couldn’t have a Mrs. Peel without a John Steed.  He set it up and she knocked it down, and he retorted with an offbeat response.  It was the perfect chemistry and connection between those two wonderful eccentric actors that made the show such a cult classic.  The natural patter, the shared whimsical sense of humor, the chaste flirtation, the throw away double entrees and the freedom to ad-lib beautifully together made Macnee and Rigg one of the most original, and most delightful, screen pairings of all time.  It was so magical that when Diana Rigg left the series after three years, whoever ITV paired with Macnee didn’t have a chance.  It just wasn’t the same.

In one of his stranger screen appearances, Patrick Macnee appeared as music mogul Sir Denis Eton-Hogg in the 1984 comedy classic “This is Spinal Tap.”

Although John Steed was his iconic character, Patrick Macnee had a long and illustrious career on stage and screen.  He is one of the few actors to play both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in various productions.  He appeared in a ton of classic American television including Studio One, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90.  He thrilled spy genre fans when he teamed up with Roger Moore as James Bond’s “side-kick” Sir Godfrey Tibbet in A View to a Kill.  He even showed up in such unlikely productions as This is Spinal Tap, The Hardy Boys, The Howling, Battlestar Galactica,  Magnum PI, The Littlest Hobo, The Love Boat and the music video for Oasis’ 1996 hit Don’t Look Back in Anger.  But no matter what part he took on he couldn’t erase the charm and the class.  It was like a trademark that followed him from production to production.

He may have already been a Victorian throw back when he was in his prime, but he was also a beloved icon of British mod culture which has continued to teach us that a little bit of charm can you get you through the most dire death trap.  The only one I guess it can’t get you through is death itself.

We already miss you Patrick Macnee.  I hope the whiskey and lime flows endlessly wherever you may be.

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REMEMBERS

LEONARD NIMOY

1931 – 2015

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” – Leonard Nimoy

I’ve never been much of a Star Trek fan.  Surprising, isn’t it?  It’s really one of the biggest misconceptions about me.  People have always assumed I was into Star Trek.  I’m always getting Star Trek stuff given to me, which I quickly regift or shamelessly put up on e-bay.  I suppose the reason people assume I’m a Star Trek fan is because it is so entrenched in pop culture lore, and it goes hand in hand with the geek culture that I am immersed in.  However, despite the fact that I’ve never really been much of a fan, I have seen my share of it and I respect the massive legacy of the cult sci-fi series, as well as the phenomena that is the fandom.  Star Trek IS pop culture.

So, with that in mind, I gladly paid over a hundred dollars to see Leonard Nimoy speak in Toronto during the summer of 2002.  Even at that time paying that sort of money to do a Q & A session with an actor was considered a lot, but you were guaranteed an autograph photo and it was during a period where Nimoy was claiming he was retiring from the autograph show and sci-fi convention circuit (he would come out of retirement a few years later and appear at many more shows).  At the time I figured it’d be the only chance I’d have to ever see Leonard Nimoy and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to witness one of the biggest legends in pop culture history.

Now it was a different time back then and I was a different person.  I was younger, more cynical, more hard hearted.  PCA did not yet exist and I hadn’t even started writing professionally and, although I had been collecting autographs and having celebrity encounters for a few years, I had not yet done a celebrity interview.

I was ushered into a small convention hall (much smaller than the ones they use today at massive comic conventions) with approximately two hundred Star Trek fans.  It was exactly what you’d expect to be like.  There were Vulcans and people in Starfleet uniforms, and one guy in a very detailed Klingon costume and another guy who was cosplaying a pretty mean James Doohan.  There was a buzz in the air as we all waited for the appearance of our hero Leonard Nimoy.

Well, we didn’t wait long and with a thunder of applause Leonard Nimoy took the stage.  Even with my seat near the back of the hall, peering through my dim eyes, did I notice how old Leonard Nimoy looked.  He was dressed casually in a dark button up sweater, much like one that Mr. Rogers would wear.  He thanked us for the warm greeting and then, to all of our surprises, launched into a rambly speech about whales.  That right.  Whales.  At no point did any of the organizers tell us that we were paying over a hundred dollars to hear Leonard Nimoy talk about whales.   I can’t say that it was very interesting, but hey, it was Leonard Nimoy talking in that distinct serious baritone of his which was enough to give any geek goose bumps.  It was what it was I guess and, well, I was guaranteed an autograph picture at the end of the presentation.  So the audience listened politely as Nimoy talked about whales for forty five minutes of the hour that we had with him. Then, once he was finished, he opened the floor for questions.

Two hundred hands went up.

Leonard Nimoy picked someone in the front row who asked a questions about Star Trek.  You could tell Leonard Nimoy was a bit annoyed having expected a question about whales.  I don’t remember what the question was, but he politely answered.  Then he asked for another question.

One hundred and ninety nine hands went up.

Leonard Nimoy said “Yes….you in the back…..in the hat.”

I looked around for the guy in the hat.  Leonard Nimoy said “Yes…you in the black hat.  You.”

I pointed at myself in disbelief.  Leonard Nimoy said “Yes, what is your question?”

I stood up to get some leverage and to allow my voice to carry across the convention hall.  “Hi Mr. Nimoy” I said.  “Thanks so much for coming to Toronto.”

“I’m glad to be here” Leonard Nimoy said to me.

“Yeah” I said, looking at him.

And then that’s when it got a bit surreal.  I was looking at Leonard Nimoy, and he was looking at me.  I was talking to him, and that distinct voice of his was answering me.  Suddenly I sort of blanked out and I thought back to that old Mego Mr. Spock doll I had as a kid, and wondering whatever happened to it.  I then became aware that all the eyes in the room was on me.  A camera from Space: The Imagination Station was pointed at me and, most of all, Leonard Nimoy was staring at me and waiting for my question.

Well I had a question for Leonard Nimoy in mind but, to this day, I don’t remember what it was.  I do know whatever it was, it wasn’t about whales.  But instead of what I was going to ask I decided to ask the question that I knew all of us REALLY wanted to ask.

“Well Mr. Nimoy,” I said meekly, “I was on the computer and I found a video of you on a beach singing about The Hobbit surrounded by go-go dancers in Spock ears.”

“Did you now?”  Leonard Nimoy said with a smirk.

“Yes I did,” I said, “Well….what the fuck Mr. Nimoy? What the fuck?”

The whole convention hall burst out in laughter.  Leonard Nimoy stood on the stage, half annoyed and half amused.

“You found this on the internet?”  he said to me.

“Yes I did sir” I said.

“Somebody get me my lawyer” Nimoy replied to more laughter, and then I knew that my moment was over.

Today I’d never speak to a performer so uncouthly as I did Leonard Nimoy, but I was impressed with the way that he handled my question.  I’d never say I met Leonard Nimoy as much as I’d say we had a brief encounter.  A small moment in time where we looked at one another and exchanged a few words.  It wasn’t my finest hour but I’ll admit that I did ask the one question that burned in me the most.

Behind the desk that I write this is an autographed photo of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock that I got that day in Toronto.  It is a keepsake from my brief encounter with one of the true giants of the pop culture journey.

Speed be with you Leonard Nimoy as you boldly go where no man has gone before.

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REMEMBERS

LESLEY GORE

1946-2015

Play all my records, keep dancing all night, but leave me alone for a while. – Lesley Gore “It’s My Party”

While all the other kids in my elementary school were listening to Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue, I was up in my bedroom listening to Lesley Gore.  The sounds of her sunshine bubblegum pop music came out of my little childhood record player from a scratchy old LP which was purchased by an Aunt, but handed down to my mother, and eventually rediscovered by me in the pile of barely played records in the corner of the rec room.  While getting ready for school each morning, despite what new record I might own, The Golden Hits of Lesley Gore somehow ended up on my turntable.  I knew the words to each song on each side of the LP by heart – It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn to Cry, Just Let Me Cry,  Hey Now…..each moment and note change.  I’d sing them all.  As a result, Lesley Gore became a touchstone in both the musical and pop culture evolution of my life.  Although my musical tastes would radically change, a Lesley Gore song could always tug on the strings of my heart hard.  I can still sing each line to each one of her songs.

That’s why, with tears still in my eyes, my heart is broken as I type these words right now.  Lesley Gore obviously still had a very strong hold on my heart.

At age 17 Lesley Gore became the most famous teenage girl in America when she hit the top of the Billboard charts with “It’s My Party” in 1964, paving the way for future pop princesses.

When Lesley Gore hit the radar in 1963 rock/pop was just starting to come of age.  Elvismania was over and the Beatles weren’t even a blip yet.  The sophomoric era of Fabian and Bobby Vee was coming to an end, making way for the more sophisticated pop sounds by Gene Pitney and The Righteous Brothers under the watchful eye of Phil Spector, the evolution of Motown and the surf rock out of California which was greasing the wheels of the rock explosion to come.  Enter Lesley Gore.  Prim, proper, cute and perhaps a tad bit naive, Lesley Gore became music’s original pop princess, paving the way for future superstars such as Madonna, The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.  But unlike those who came after her, Lesley Gore needed no gimmicks or auto tuning.  Armed with a string of catchy pop hits from the Brill building and the powerful backing of producer Quincy Jones, Lesley Gore became the symbol of the all American every girl, and her music and image would find mass appeal to both male and, especially, female fans alike.

In 1964, at the height of her popularity, Lesley Gore appeared in the concert film “The T.A.M.I Show” in which she was given ten unedited minutes to perform a string of her biggest hits. Despite sharing the stage with The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and The Supremes, Lesley Gore got the biggest audience reaction.

It might be difficult to understand the star power that Lesley Gore had during the first two years of her career.  Simply put, she was the biggest musical star in America. In the commentary track to the DVD of the 60’s concert film The T.A.M.I Show, director John Landis, who attended the infamous 1964 showcase concert held at the Santa Moncia Civic Auditorium as a seventh grader, states that Lesley Gore got the biggest reaction from the audience despite sharing the stage with legendary acts such as The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Beach Boys.  Although these other acts would go down in history for their social and artistic importance, to the audience of primarily young teenagers it was Lesley Gore whose songs they were hearing on the radio.   In fact, the year before she was nominated for a Grammy for best song for It’s My Party, was given the Billboard prize for song of the year and had just recently won the Cashbox award for female vocalist of the year.  Furthermore, she had eight hit songs on the charts within fifteen months.  Lesley Gore was the most famous teenage girl in America.  As a result, the producers of The T.A.M.I Show dedicated ten solid unedited minutes to Lesley’s performance, allowing her to perform six songs back to back and uncut.  It was Lesley Gore at her finest hour, and she was able to hold her own against the other dynamic acts in the film.

Throughout her early hits Lesley Gore’s music had a disturbing subtext of repression and emotional abuse, which hit home with a generation of young girls who were still pushed down by societies norms. However, she evened out the playing field when she recorded “You Don’t Own Me” in 1964 which would go on to become a feminist anthem.

However, when looking back at many of her songs, there was a disturbing subtext of repression and emotional abuse in many of her biggest hits.  Right out of the gate with It’s My Party Lesley was already in the role of the victim.  It was a disturbing trend which would continue through Maybe I Know, Just Let Me Cry and, most viciously, That’s the Way Boys Are which had illusions of mental and physical abuse and put forth an idea that it was okay, and even expected, for men to cheat on women.  But in the pre-feminist era of America, these were the sad social reality of the teenage girl who still hadn’t yet found her voice.  It was painful, and Lesley Gore harnessed that pain and put it into song and millions of girls worldwide could relate to it.

Thus, when Lesley released You Don’t Own Me in 1964, that song was such a massive juxtaposition for not only her body of work, but the music being sung by women in the pop scene in general.  It was a song of liberation sung by a nice girl which had never been done before in pop music.  The song was more up to the speed of a tougher girl band like The Shangris-Las, but Lesley Gore’s girlish rendition of such a powerful song brought the idea of self-respect and liberation to the normal American girls who were not readily exposed to the budding women’s liberation movement which was growing in large city centers and university campuses.  It was an extremely early musical moment in feminism from an unlikely source proving that Lesley Gore had more strength and clout than the public might have realized.  In retrospect, You Don’t Own Me was Lesley Gore’s most important recording.

In 1967 Lesley Gore appeared opposite of Julie Newmar as Catwoman’s sidekick Pussycat in a classic episode of “Batman” in which she premiered her minor hit “California Nights.”

But of course, there was an interesting real life drama going on in Lesley’s life that nobody knew at the time and added another powerful subtext to her songs.  During a time when homosexuality was still deemed to be deviant in society, it was unthinkable that America’s premier pop princess might be gay.  Lesley Gore would publicly say that she didn’t realize that she was gay until she attended Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, but I have a conflicting story to this.  During the 1960’s Lesley Gore was often escorted to premiers and parties by actor Aron Kincaid, who I got to know on a personal level near the end of his life.  Aron and Leslie appeared together in a few films during the mid 60’s including Girls on the Beach and Ski Party where Lesley can be seen paying special attention to him while singing Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.  During one of our visits I asked Aron if he knew that Lesley was gay during this time and he replied “Yes I did.  She had told me, so I helped guard her secret as her date for a while.”  It was also Aron who said to me “Lesley Gore was the smartest girl I ever knew.”  This painted a fuller picture of a young woman who obviously was keeping a very guarded secret during a time where it was one thing to be repressed as a young woman, but another to be repressed as a lesbian.  Perhaps the angst that Lesley brought to her songs weren’t just about boys, but about her own repressed sexual identity as well.

Over the years I tried many times to contact Lesley Gore for a PCA interview but our connections never seemed to come together.  She always seemed two steps ahead of me.  It hurts my heart that we always seemed to be only a few degrees of separation from each other but never spoke.  So tonight I dug out that old copy of The Golden Hits of Lesley Gore that my Aunt bought decades ago and which still is in my record collection to this day and lay it once again on my record turn table.  It’s still has that scratchy sound and the occasional skip, but I still know all the lyrics.  I still can sing all the songs.

Tonight it’s not just Judy’s turn to cry.  Tonight the whole world weeps  for Lesley Gore.

Hide every lovely flower from my sight,
Don’t let that dreamy moon come out, oh, tonight.
And please don’t let me see two lovers kiss,
Don’t let me be reminded what I miss.
He said good-bye,
Just let me cry.

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Although his face may not be recognizable to most pop culture fans, Felix Silla has had one of the biggest careers of anyone ever to participate in a PCA interview.

Standing 3’11”, stunt man and actor Felix Silla may be the smallest person ever to give an interview to PCA. However, there is little doubt that he has had one of the biggest careers. Although his face may not be recognizable to the public, he has worked beside some of the biggest stars in television and film history, and has had a behind the scenes presence in some of televisions biggest shows and films biggest blockbusters. His television appearances include Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, The Monkees, Betwitched, HR Pufnstuf, Lidsville, Bewitched, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Star Trek, Night Gallery, The Dukes of Hazzard and Married with Children. Meanwhile, he has played various role as well as did stunt work in Planet of the Apes, The Towering Inferno, Poltergeist, The Black Bird, The Manitou, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Howard the Duck, Return of the Jedi, The Golden Child, Under the Rainbow, The Sting II, Spaceballs and Batman Returns. Few film professionals can claim a resume with as many memorable productions as Felix Silla.

Although he only appeared in seventeen episodes of “The Addams Family,” Felix Silla’s character Cousin Itt became one of the most beloved and iconic creatures from the series.

But it was behind an elaborate costume made of hair that Felix made his biggest mark in pop culture history when he played the role of the mysterious and beloved Cousin Itt on The Addams Family. Joining the series twenty episodes into its first season, Felix made only seventeen appearances as the strange little creature without a face, but he immediately become one of the show’s most popular characters. Still a beloved iconic television character, Cousin Itt gave Felix Silla solid immortality in the history of television.

A few years later Felix Silla got the role of another popular character when he took on the role of Twiki the Robot on Buck Rogers. Although the character was voiced by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc, Silla worked opposite Gil Gerard and Erin Gray over two seasons of the popular sci-fi drama. A favorite with young viewers, Twiki was merchandised and became a popular character for kids hungry for Star Wars type fare, and gave Felix another landmark role to his already monumental career.

Appearing in 80′s film franchise such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Felix Silla also took on the popular role of Twiki the Robot on “Buck Rogers.”

Originally from Rome, Italy, Felix Silla came to North America at age 16 and got a job working for Barnum and Bailey Circus. But after a few years under the big top, he realized that the circus wasn’t the place for him. Settling down in Los Angeles, Silla eventually found a new career doing stunts and stand in work for children in television and movies. With his short stature and circus training, Felix Silla became a commodity which opened the doors to some of the biggest productions in movie history which led him to appearing on the other side of the camera as well as behind it.

A great man and a fantastic storyteller, it’d be impossible to fit all of his Hollywood stories into a single interview, but for an hour and a half Felix gave it a go.  The result is an interesting journey through film history from a man with a truly unique perspective.

 READ FULL INTERVIEW

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